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Update On Jussie Smollett

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Chicago's Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says the actor Jussie Smollett staged a hate crime.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDDIE JOHNSON: This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked.

GREENE: Now, after appearing in court, Smollett was released on $100,000 bail. Smollett's legal team says the actor is innocent and wants to clear his name. Paris Schutz is a correspondent for "Chicago Tonight" on WTTW Chicago Public Media and joins us this morning.

Hi, Paris.

PARIS SCHUTZ: Hi, David - good to be here.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. You know, the prosecutor yesterday - I mean, wow - offered so much detail suggesting that Smollett was almost acting like a director - right? - staging this attack. I mean, what stood out to you?

SCHUTZ: Well, the sheer level of detail, as you said, that they had, the amount of evidence they had from surveillance footage to text messages. You know, they talk about a text message that Smollett allegedly sent on January 25 to Abel Osundairo, who's his friend and extra on "Empire," saying, quote, "might need your help on the low. You around to meet up and talk face to face?"

So then January 27, he goes. And there's surveillance of this. He and Abel and Abel's brother Ola go to the scene in the Streeterville neighborhood of downtown, where he wants the attack to take place. He points to a surveillance camera that he wants to catch the attack. Now, ironically, when this incident does happen, it's out of view of this camera. But the camera does catch the two brothers running away from the scene.

GREENE: So he's actually, I mean, at least accused of, like, coming up with the exact camera shots he wanted - I mean, really planning this to a tee. And yet despite all of this detail, Smollett's legal team is steadfast right now, saying that he is innocent. So what exactly are they telling us?

SCHUTZ: Well, they're defiant. They're calling this a spectacle. They're saying, quote, the presumption of innocence was trampled on on the eve of a mayoral election. They call Smollett a man of impeccable character who maintains his innocence. And it should be noted that there is a wild election going on here in Chicago for mayor, to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday.

So the defense team is somehow insinuating that maybe politics is playing a role in this. And I'll tell you, covering this mayor's race, this is not - this case is resonating more in the 2020 presidential campaign than it is in the local mayor's race.

GREENE: We should say that President Trump has weighed in, at times, in this case.

SCHUTZ: Exactly.

GREENE: I just want to play a little bit more sound of Chicago's Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Let's listen here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: To put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful.

GREENE: I mean, he's clearly angry about the attention this is bringing to the city. How is the community reacting?

SCHUTZ: Well, the first thing that Eddie Johnson said at his press conference as he looked out over the mass of reporters and TV crews was that, I wish the standard homicide that happens in this city almost every day gets the kind of attention that this case got. So Chicago has a high homicide rate. More than 80 percent of those cases go unsolved.

Now, you juxtapose that with this case. Twenty-four detectives were on this case because it's a so-called heater case with all this attention. And they were able to bring charges relatively quickly, so it drew condemnation from him, from the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and from groups that support LGBTQ - and anti-hate groups here are saying, you know, people already have trouble staying in the shadows. They don't want this to hurt them further.

GREENE: All right. Speaking on Skype here with Paris Schutz - he's a correspondent with "Chicago Tonight" on WTTW Chicago Public Media. Paris, thanks.

SCHUTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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